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Examiner
  • We say 'no' on Jackson County sales tax issue

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  • In the short few months since the Jackson County Legislature agreed to put a one-half cent sales tax on the November ballot to fund translational medicine research, we’ve heard repeated the basic arguments from its supporters and critics. On this issue we side with much of what the critics say. Voters have become accustomed in recent decades to being asked to put up their tax dollars to prime the pump for development. But those issues are generally localized and the voters can assume that they might have some direct benefit in the form of local jobs or better shopping options. They’ve become accustomed to being asked to put up their tax dollars to improve their local schools or to pay for better streets and parks. They can see the benefit to their families and communities in sight when they vote. But the sales tax on Tuesday’s ballot doesn’t carry that sort of assured future benefit. It carries a hopeful but vague promise that Jackson County could become a major player in the field of translational medicine research – making the link between basic research in the lab and actual treatments. That last sentence contains two keys to our skepticism. “Could become.” No guarantees. You could take one-half percent of every dollar you spend and put it in a jar to buy lottery tickets. You could become a millionaire. No guarantees. The cost to the taxpayer relative to the benefit for those entities receiving the revenue is just too skewed. Many people in Jackson County live paycheck to paycheck and asking them to hand over even the cost of a gallon of milk a month on such vague promises is a hard sell. “Translational medicine.” Right out of the gate, supporters had the task of explaining to voters just what the heck translational medicine research is. We doubt most of the people voting on Tuesday have yet gotten a firm grasp on that. It takes time to educate the public on major issues, to get them to come around to your way of thinking. Consider how long community leaders in Jackson County have worked to explain why they think commuter rail is the way to go in the metro. The public is warming to that idea, but it’s taken a lot of time and effort to explain. Translational medicine research as the next big concept for the metro has been rushed into the community dialogue just since summer. Just why this seemingly came out of the blue hasn’t been well explained. Unlike most major issue campaigns, this wasn’t rolled out in a series of public meetings, where the concept is explained and the public gives input and asks questions before a ballot question is proposed. We don’t know what, if any, other funding options were considered. Why a half cent, not a quarter cent? Why just Jackson County? Is there a better type of tax altogether to support this? Did anyone mull this over? Of course, but the general public who will be doing the voting – and the paying – wasn’t part of that discussion. Transforming Jackson County into a national hub for translational medicine research is a lofty goal and one that the metropolitan area might someday decide to embrace, but this tax issue just isn’t something we can endorse.

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